Are there demons?

Many people believe that there are beings that are wholly evil. They may be called devils, or demons, or dark angels, among other names. If they existed, these would be beings whose life force was derived entirely from negative rather than positive energy. To accept the existence of such beings may imply that there exists a Lord of Demons, Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub. The Universe would then have two sources of energy, a positive source - God or the Universal Spirit - and a negative one. Belief in the Devil is seductive, because it allows us to blame our negative feelings and our misfortunes on an outside influence: "The Devil made me do it!" What's more, it allows us to make excuses for the bad conduct of others.

Recently I attended a class on the Bhagavad Gita at the Ananda Center in Palo Alto. Ananda is an organization which follows the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda, as interpreted by his pupil, Swami Kriyananda. Yogananda taught that there is a demonic force in the world, according to the person leading the class. As much as I respect Yogananda and his teachings, I cannot accept this one aspect.

There is no doubt that there are people who seem possessed by evil spirits. Indeed, it is an encounter with one such person that leads me to this topic. Many of us have people in our lives whose sole purpose seems to be to cause trouble and pain for others. This may be particularly true for those of us who have chosen the path of love and harmony; there may be a person who appears to have made it his life's work to discredit you and goad or drive you off your Path. 

It is not necessary, however, to resort to explanations which presume the existence of demonic forces in order understand such behavior. If we are honest with ourselves we need look no farther than our own egos to find a sufficient explanation. You believe that Love is the Way; that the entire Universe is composed of positive loving energy. Yet your own mind, your own body, your own emotions are constantly pressing you to express negativity. In your personal, professional, and spiritual life you still find a voice nagging at you to be competitive, to undermine others to advance your own interests, to resent the success of others. If you are strong and resolute, you will resist these pressures most of the time. But they are there, and they will always be there as long as you draw breath.

If you, with your devotion to spirituality, have such feelings, how much more must they dominate the lives of those who lack a commitment to love and harmony? No question there are individuals - perhaps they are a majority - who are, in Eckhart Tolle's words, completely unconscious at all times. That is, their consciousness is totally submerged and subjugated by their egoic mind. A person who is controlled by ego cannot help but act out in egregious ways that are petty, spiteful, and calculated to cause nothing but pain. That is how the ego seeks to validate and aggrandize itself - by driving others down and trying to bring out egoic reactions in them. 

What is the correct way to deal with these individuals? One way is to ignore them, as you do with the proddings of your own ego to the extent possible. However, it is also important to remember that these beings are not the undiluted egos that they appear to be. Each person has within him or her the unblemished manifestation of Spirit without which there can be no life. You may despair of ever seeing any evidence of this fact in some people. Indeed we all have known of heard of people who went to their graves as ornery and cantankerous as they had been all their lives. This does not detract from the fact that somewhere under that seemingly inpenetrable shell is a glowing pearl aching to be revealed.

The good news is that it is not your responsibility to reform such a person. The most that Spirit expects of you is to honor the Spirit within them with silent love and forgiveness. Their inner light - or Higher Self - may muster the strength to burst forth in this life and produce the flowering of what seems to be a new person; or it may remained buried under its karmic burden and await an opportunity to reassert itself when reincarnated in a new body. Either way, the most you can hope for is to maintain your own equanimity and perspective. 

Finally, your forgiveness must extend also to yourself. If you look at your own thoughts and actions honestly you are likely to find ways in which you contributed to the problem between you and this other person. You may have treated him unfairly or thoughtlessly. There may have been times when your ego gained control and lashed out in its own defense against the calculatedly treacherous and unfair attacks of the other. You can regret this experience and learn from it, but do not fall into the trap of believing that you should give yourself over to ego as a way of retaliation. Just as the ego dominated by negativity suffers more than its victims, so will you endure more suffering from surrendering to the egoic impulse than you could ever hope to inflict upon another. Simply return to your centered state as quickly and easily as you can.


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